At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."

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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Wonderful Crazy Night, February 5th

Johnstone also chimes in, literally, on "Claw Hammer," brightening its swampy aura with Byrds-like 12-string guitar. In "A Good Heart," John and Burnett turn the pleading in Taupin's lyrics into a Beatlesque spin on Southern soul with a coat of horns...Read more

Inside New Gloucester, February 4th

Their renditions of traditional and original songs are supported with Celtic harp, 12-string guitar, fiddle and woodwinds. The concert will take place at the New Gloucester Village Coffeehouse on Saturday, Feb. 6, 7:30 p.m. Tickets at the door will...Read more

Thomas Leeb on recording and performing with baritone acoustic guitars, February 4th

It's like 12-string guitar; nobody switches to 12-string and then says, 'I'm going to burn my six-string and I'm only going to play 12-string now.' But I think everyone should have a baritone at home. I mean, that would be wonderful." It's arguable...Read more

Thank you, Signe Toly Anderson & Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane
The Seattle Times, February 3rd

Backstage, I met Paul Kantner, who proudly showed me his red Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, which produced such a wonderfully jangly sound, and he explained how he and the band, following Bob Dylan's example, had made the transition from ...Read more

The Recording Guitarist: Cunning Transposition Tricks
Premier Guitar, February 3rd

A simple capo can provide a new perspective on parts. Your cat might like it too. Last time around we looked at creating sparkling “fairy dust” overdubs with the help of such instruments as standard and octave 12-string guitar, “Nashville high-strung...Read more

A Smaller 12-string and More from Taylor Guitars at Winter NAMM 2016
Acoustic Guitar, February 1st

Over at Taylor Guitars' roomy suite upstairs from the main floor at NAMM, master luthier Andy Powers sat down with Acoustic Guitar editor Greg Cahill for a chat about a couple of new Taylor 12-strings: He calls the mahogany 562ce “a 12-string guitar...Read more

Kottke lets his playing do the talking
Green Bay Press Gazette, February 1st

Your “6- and 12-String Guitar” album was a major breakthrough for you. What do you remember about composing and recording those songs? What do you remember about yourself? You're right here — what's to remember? With your 1971 debut Capitol ...Read more

Rostam Batmanglij re-releases “Wood” song — listen
Consequence of Sound (blog), January 29th

So their is a 12-string guitar solo on 'Wood' that quotes melodies 1000s of years old (Rast Panjgah), there's classical music at play, it's a love song, it's a queer love song. It's my moms' favorite thing I've ever done. “I'm not sure if I ever...Read more